[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when?"
~ Rabbi Hillel ~
My Path from Communalism to Organizing and Back
I live in an apartment in Brooklyn with five other people, functioning as a collective financially, emotionally, culturally, and in our work. We collectively run Without Walls, an educational non-profit that uses democratic educational methods to develop intentional communities that struggle with issues of race, class, gender, environment, and power, among other things. We are financially interdependent, sharing one bank account and having no other accounts. We reserve half a day every week to be together, deal with one another’s lives, make collective decisions, create a culture together, learn together, and develop our group intimacy.
We all grew up in a communal, socialist-zionist youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair. Hashomer Hatzair was founded in 1913 in Eastern Europe as an ideological and organizational response to anti-semitism, a counter-attack on the alienation fomented by industrial capitalism, and a rejection of right-wing zionism. In its past, the youth movement was one of the driving forces behind the Israeli Kibbutz Movement and the attempt to create a secular, bi-national state in Israel, as well as many of the Jewish uprisings against the Nazis during the Second World War (including the famous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising). Today, Hashomer Hatzair finds itself navigating the complex terrain of asserting that Jews are a community deserving a right to self-determination, while opposing the Israeli occupation and maintaining that Israel should be a secular, pluralistic country that affords equal rights to all of its citizens. Currently, there are three urban communes in North America that developed through Hashomer Hatzair, as well as dozens of the same in Israel.
Having spent time in a youth movement saturated in Martin Buber’s theses on human intimacy and early Marxist writings on alienation, communalism was a natural progression for us in an attempt to live more meaningful human lives. We have had, for some time, a firm grasp on the need for humans to express their drives for creativity and closeness with others through tightly-night intentional communities. The question of having a revolutionary mission outwards, though, was always an issue for us – whether at our movement summer camp, in the schools in which we teach, or in our own communal lives. For a group of Northeastern middle class Jews, it was always much easier to see how we could better our own lives by living communally, and affect the world through education, but always much harder to figure out how we could materially affect the world outside of us and be part of a truly revolutionary movement.
I have spent many long nights arguing with communalist partners over the need for a collective mission outwards, claiming that without this, our communal living is only a self-serving act, and not a revolutionary one. I often leaned on Marx and Engel’s condemnation of what they called utopianism as futile in the struggle against capitalism (and I would add authoritarianism, racism, patriarchy, environmental injustice, imperialism, etc.). I looked around and saw the development of a number of impressive intentional living situations – from cooperative housing to eco-villages – and lamented their disconnect from the world around them on an active, organized, and movement-based level. I saw in them an expression of genuine desires to live more meaningful lives, but a severe limitation on their ability to provide this same experience for the majority of people on earth. As impressive as these communal arrangements are, they certainly do little to end the wars our tax-dollars enable, the gentrification our rent-money sustains, alienating and exploitative working conditions, sexism, homophobia, and the other ills that plague our society.
More recently, I joined the budding student movement in New York City. This, I thought, had the potential to become a revolutionary movement – or part of one – that was intent on addressing the material conditions in our society, that was ready to crash into something, to build something new for a large number of people, to assert a new vision for the world. In taking a step out of my communal bubble and mixing with youth trying to radically alter the world around them, I found myself playing a new role. Again, I found myself engrossed in the late-night debates so characteristic of wannabe radical intellectuals such as myself, but this time pushing communalism, and arguing that it must be an integral part of any revolutionary struggle. I fought the very arguments I had previously drawn on self-critically, seeing a huge pitfall in the claims of the traditional Left that utopianism was a waste of time, or that it detracted from the movement’s ultimate aims, or that communalism was all well and good but largely unnecessary and irrelevant.
I found, again and again, that in a real struggle to holistically transform society, neither can exist without the other: Communalism alone is insufficient as it does not address the material roots of the oppressions it seeks to confront, and at the same time, organizing or activism in a movement for an egalitarian, solidaristic society en masse is insufficient if it does not express its aims in its daily practice. Revolutionary communalism, then, is a synthesis of the two, and a location where vision and strategy meet.
Revolutionary Communalism Defined Loosely (For Now)
I define communalism as a state of social interaction in which people intentionally organize their lives collectively to facilitate their development as individuals and communities towards fulfilling their true human potential. I define revolution as a dynamic, always changing, fundamental change of material and social realities in an effort to create a fully egalitarian society, which includes a confrontation, and a taking of power.
Revolutionary communalism, then, is a combination of the two – an active living out of egalitarianism, combined with a collective effort on the part of the community to enact revolution on a larger scale.
Why we are Revolutionaries
Revolutionaries of our generation assess the state of today’s society as one in which we are constrained from developing our true human potentials – both as individuals and as communities – and part of our vision for a new society is an answer to this. In the future, we envision a world in which the way we relate to one another is a radically more meaningful one, without expressions of oppressive forms of relations we find ourselves engulfed in today. We struggle for a world where human beings live in self-managed, democratic communities where people control their lives, and have a say in decisions to the extent they are affected by them – in economic, cultural, kinship, and political terms.
We can crudely divide our reasons to be revolutionary into two categories: personal reasons, and ideological reasons.
The first category emerges from peoples’ practical life experiences. It is in this category that we locate people’s drive to radically alter the state of the world because of suffering they have undergone, or perhaps suffering of others who are close enough to them that it has affected their personal, day-to-day lives. Depending on one’s place in the different areas of life and the ways racism, classism, patriarchy, authoritarianism, and other forms of oppression fall on them, people develop their drive towards social change, often focusing on the particular spheres in which they experience oppression most deeply.
The second category of causes for revolution is marked by a sense of justice, a sort of moral or ethical righteousness, and a radical analysis of the way the world works. This category is where ideas fit; it is the framework in which we develop a general vision for society based on claims about what we think is right and wrong. It is this category of reasons that propels us to fight against forms of oppression even when they do not directly attack us as particular individuals. Those relatively privileged in society, but still revolutionary, often draw much of their inspiration from this category in an attempt to formulate a revolutionary worldview.
Both of these categories of reasons are important and legitimate. We need to remember our personal stake in a struggle for a new society, because our experience in this world makes us genuine revolutionaries. This separates us from cold, mechanized, text-book revolutionaries who tend to have a hard time making decisions that actually benefit peoples’ real lives. At the same time, we need a theoretical understanding of the way the world is and the way it ought to be. It is in the realm of ideas that we make the leap from individual cases of oppression to a broader understanding of the fundamental orders of our society, and a vision for a reimagined society.
These reasons that drive us to radically change society dictate to a large extent the course we choose to take as revolutionaries. We need both the personal reasons, which lead to movements and visions for reimagined societies that truly take into account our personal needs. We need the ideological reasons because they lead to movements and societal visions that are broad and holistic.
Why Revolutionary Communalism
Revolutionary communalism is an expression of both drives for revolution, and a synthesis of personal needs and ideological aims.
If our main drive towards revolution comes from the first category, personal experience, we can see revolutionary communalism as a real-life response to the alienation we regularly feel by being atomized parts of a social machine built to produce profit and power for the few over the many, dividing us from one another, depriving us of the human intimacy we seem to innately crave.
If we come at this revolutionary drive from the second category, that of a sense of justice, and we agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we live today – divided into classes and groups that alienate us from one another and impose hierarchies in all areas of life – we can see revolutionary communalism as an important method for social change in that it breaks down the boundaries between the different divisions imposed on us by the ruling agents of today’s society.
We should see revolutionary communalism as both an ethical answer to a world in which peoples’ ability to live in egalitarian, self-managed, and solidaristic communities is inhibited, and as a legitimately selfish attempt to gain some of the benefits of that type of community for ourselves.
Nine Principles of Revolutionary Communalism
Having lived communally, and having absorbed a sort of handed-down wisdom from a variety of sources including theoretical writings, historical accounts, and the experience of other practitioners, I will attempt to present a draft of a guide to revolutionary communalism. I lay out nine principles that should, in my view, be accounted for in any expression of communal life, whether in a work community, a living community, or a combination of the two. These principles are: collective vision and worldview, deliberate intimacy, collective struggle, intercommunalism and movements, shared resources, collective learning, collective decision-making, autonomy and self-management, and intentionality and flexibility.
In practice, revolutionary communalism can take any number of forms. It can take place in anything from an apartment or a building full of them, to a neighborhood or a farm, to a workplace or a town. There are a few models out there, but not nearly enough to allow us to formulate a holistic understanding of the potential of revolutionary communalism. It is up to us to develop these systems, remembering that while we need structures and institutions that help us live the way we want to, we also need to be flexible and truly progressive enough to change them and continue to experiment. Radicalism includes deep analysis and honest reflection, and we should have the courage and wisdom to adapt to changing circumstances and experiences.
The principles below are not necessarily in order of importance, and they only form a blueprint; perhaps they can serve as reminders for potential revolutionary communalists, and hopefully the list will change and grow as we probe deeper into this idea and its practice.
1) Collective Vision and Worldview
A collective needs a shared vision for the world. Without this, the group will only exist as long as it is functionally useful for it to do so (from action to action, project to project, etc.). A collective’s inability to exist for long enough will stunt its internal development as a warm, intimate community.
A collective worldview and a common purpose in the world are necessary not only to bind the group, but also to guide the direction of the group’s activism. Without this agreement on politics and values, the group will not be able to form a collective mission. Without a shared vision for the world, the group runs the risk of fulfilling only its internal goals of providing a community for its members, while becoming largely irrelevant to the world outside of it.
Shared politics, values, and social norms are crucial to this type of collective, but at the same time, one of those key values must be critical thought and open-mindedness. In other words, a collective must have a shared worldview, but it must be open enough to accommodate change in individuals, as this is inevitable. Only a system flexible enough to accommodate this will offer its members a progressive, diverse, and dynamic enough life to allow individuals to develop themselves fully. Only a breathable structure has a serious chance of existing long-term.
2) Deliberate Intimacy
If in our day-to-day lives we are reduced to alienated automatons bouncing against each other, objects to be navigated around, mere "Its" in a world of "Its" (to borrow from Martin Buber), then the collective is the framework for the creation of a truly human set of relations. Within this structure, members can struggle intentionally to see one another in their full complexities, with their inevitable flaws as well as their profound beauties – as "You" instead of "It." The collective is where we have the opportunity to reveal ourselves, to work with others to undo the immense trauma and scarring heaped on us by various forms of alienation, to accept one another, to change one another, and to truly communicate. It is where we remind ourselves constantly to look at each other through good eyes, through a lens of compassion and with the constant memory of someone else’s fullness.
The intimacy within the group is made up of the relationships between the different individuals, but also the relationship between the individual and what Buber refers to as "the living center" – the combination of the individuals, the whole with its consensus and its collective spirit. In our communal structures, we must address this relationship between each individual and the whole, but we should also remember that this whole is made up of individuals with their own interpersonal relationships that crisscross around the circle. Though this latter set of relationships is more difficult to truly delve into, without doing so, we cannot create a truly humanistic environment.
Importantly, the development of this intimacy, filled with honesty, compassion, understanding – but also internal and external struggle – requires a deliberateness that most of our day-to-day relationships do not demand. It takes great wisdom and patience to see a "You" instead of an "It," and great strength and courage to become someone else’s "You" as well. As Erich Fromm teaches us in The Art of Loving, love is an art that must be practiced – just as the violinist practices the violin. To truly love someone requires effort, training, discipline, and intention. The collective creates the space for this type of life, not only in a world to come, but in the here and now.
It is important, in communal arrangements, to literally set space and time aside for this, taking into account that the lives we lead might pull us in different directions. However, communalism only provides a framework for these types of relationships, and if that space is not filled with a will and desire to share emotions, mediate problems, be open and honest, cultivate good eyes with patience and understanding, trust the other, and both give and accept criticism, this space can quickly be converted to something unfortunately similar to an apartment shared with a heap of sloppy craigslist roommates.
Because one of the most tangible expressions of my personal communal life is a shared bank account, people often ask me whether or not sharing money is hard, or what happens if I want to buy this or that, or whether we suffer anxieties because of our financial arrangement. While this aspect of communal life is one that should be considered seriously, my answer has always been that the challenges associated with sharing money are secondary when compared with the challenges of truly sharing ones life, with being vulnerable with others, with confronting fears of abandonment and the life-long education we have received to protect ourselves from our surely vicious neighbors. With this immense challenge to be human and demand the same form others, to trust that others will tell you what they truly think and trust that they will care for you when you do the same, come those moments of a fullness of humanity and solidarity that are difficult to describe.
3) Collective Struggle
In the effort on the part of members of a collective to create a space for themselves where they can create better community relations and live out their egalitarianism, it is critical to remember that the collective exists embedded in a particular social context. Though the details vary, we live in the midst of a world in need of fundamental change. It is the duty of a revolutionary communal group to realize a joint responsibility over the society surrounding it.
Communalism on its own might benefit the members of the group and reflect onto others a more human way of living, but it certainly has a very limited ability to change society at large, and it also typically comes from a position of relative privilege. If we claim to be revolutionaries, we cannot exist only for ourselves individually; by the same logic, our collectives cannot exist only for their own internal maintenance.
The communalism of the group is at once for the betterment of the lives of its members, and simultaneously a tool to strengthen them for their task in the world – to make revolution. Just as vital as the inherent value of living better lives communally is this fact, that the collective must be driven to change the world, to create a society where people can choose for themselves how they want to live.
Furthermore, the collective struggle outwards is just as formative in the creation of the group’s internal culture as any other act the group carries out. Struggling together makes us partners in something larger than ourselves, and that process is not only important for the other circles of people we affect, but also vital for our own development.
4) Intercommunalism and Movements
To create a collective along the lines I am describing requires borders, just as the formation of any community identity does. It is perfectly legitimate to section ourselves off into smaller groups that help us create the space to subvert the smallness we feel in the midst of this titanic world we are a part of. The line drawn between the collective and the rest, on its own, is not the problem; rather, it is the nature of the line drawn that can be either solidaristic and nurturing, or divisive and hostile.
The collective is a circle that can contain us as individuals, and a space in and from which we can practice revolutionary communalism. The collective, then, must always be seeking out other collectives, other circles. With other collectives, ours creates an even larger circle together, and although the intensity with which we can practice revolutionary communalism with those other circles might be less, the principles remain the same. In this way, we ensure that the lines we draw are healthy and fluid; we must constantly enlarge the circles inside which we can be partially liberated, and strengthen them as a platform from which we can liberate more and more.
As the circles grow and become more federated, they can begin to establish structural foundations that make the initial circles sustainable in the long-run. Examples of such institutions might be community land trusts, alternative educational institutions, community development credit unions, and other structures that encourage solidarity. If we hope to have a serious impact on the world around us, we are infinitely stronger in a movement than in our bubbles. Beyond this, the bubbles themselves rarely last long without the much-needed solidarity we can find across broader lines.
5) Shared Resources
First of all, we should recognize immediately that material survival is a true concern for people, and much of our time is spent ensuring this. Organizing this effort collectively makes it easier to accomplish and makes us more productive. I can attest to this from personal experience (as can anyone who has ever bought toilet paper in bulk…). It really is pretty common-sensical.
Sharing our resources is an integral factor in enabling our intimacy and our activism. In terms of the former, collective resources remove commodities as an obstacle to be danced around. Instead, we turn our material needs into a center around which we can congregate. In terms of the latter, as part of a collective, we still navigate a world where we must sell our labor in order to buy commodities, and it would be foolish of us to expect one another to join in on a collective mission together, to share our time and our work, if we cannot ensure our collective survival and prosperity.
To keep our resources to ourselves privately could, first of all, be a source of tension and divisiveness for the group. Furthermore, since our society is structured in such a way that greater access to material resources often leads to a wider array of choices (in terms of jobs, places to live, etc.), the members of the group would be forced to constantly pull one another back to the center. Since rather arbitrary market forces decide what is or isn’t valuable labor, keeping our income private makes it difficult to have collective work. While one member might be able to have a paying movement job, another might be prevented from joining in this movement effort because s/he has to work a nine to five. This could, in a worst case scenario, lead to serious class divisions within what is meant to be a truly egalitarian group. It could also lead to unequal job complexes within the group, which would promote uneven development and facilitate vastly different day-to-day experiences, making it different to fulfill other aspects of collective life.
Still, this is only an observation, and not a rule, and different levels and types of resource sharing should be explored. No communal arrangement should be divorced from practical needs and the personal feelings of individuals in the group, including the legitimate and well-founded need on the part of members to develop trust and affection before entering into intensive resource-sharing. The real point is that resources should be put on the table in some way for the group to relate to in an intentional, collective way, rather than a silent, individualistic way. The members of a collective should be and feel responsible for one another on some level, and resources will undoubtedly sneak their way into that dynamic whether we like it or not (capital really is quite annoying that way), so we are better off being open about it and attempting to develop a creative arrangement that fosters the types of values we want to live with – egalitarianism, solidarity, etc.
6) Collective Learning
Collective learning is what creates the ideological and institutional fertile ground for shaping the collective’s common life and mission. By learning together, members of a collective develop their shared outlook and worldview, as well as their culture, language, and purpose.
Learning together can mean learning academically, as well as learning by doing things together, and also learning about one another. Learning, in this sense, is really a process of collective growth that paves a path for the group to tread on together. Without a collective learning process, the long-term life of the group will be severely challenged.
The lives we lead, especially in urban settings, are growing more and more attention-grabbing, sense-numbing, and time-sucking. The bright lights, the flashing screens, and the choose-your-own-adventures in anything from the salad bar to the university, facilitate an aggressively individualistic development of the self. Our practical life experiences are actually an educational process, yielding a particular type of identity. If communalism is an effort to counteract some of the pull away from meaningful relationships in community, it must have for itself a framework that provides people a space in which they can grow alongside one another, and grow particularly into the types of people we hope to be.
Furthermore, in line with the entire communal project’s aim, the method by which the collective educates itself must be democratic and progressive, such that it reflects the values of revolutionary communalism not only in its content, but in its practice. The way in which we teach and learn must be personal, needs-based, egalitarian, self-managing, critical, conversation-based, varied, creative, fun, and passionately democratic.
7) Collective Decision-making
The social relations most acceptable in our society are bred by an intricate network of educational apparatuses, from the school and the playground to the home and the church. This assembly line of seemingly neutral content-crammers pushes us through decision after decision, where we often decide alone, and end up – by some strange twist of homogenization – being sucked into similarly grey and awful results as the rest of the people in our class or social group. That is, we are taught to navigate the world as if we are solitary agents in it, whereas the reality is that we live (particularly in this age of history) in a remarkably interdependent and interconnected way.
The collective is a framework to be able to halt this process of mythical individualism, and attempt to take other people into account in our decision-making, which inevitably does affect them one way or another. This process also exists in a romantic couple, or between committed partners or family members. The only real difference is that the collective is a larger, more intentional structure for decision-making than the other examples noted. It does not rest on unconditional love, like a family might, nor does it stem from the sort of inexplicable affection of a best friendship; it must intentionally cultivate those things.
Revolutionary communalism rests on the sharing of information, emotions, inspirations, etc. so that people can decide things together in a self-managed setting, without decision-making turning into something carried out by a class of coordinators, or a centrally planned living arrangement. It is up to the members of the group just how collective they seek to be, and just how much say they want from others in their own decisions. While collective decision-making is vital for the development of the group for its internal and external purposes, it should only be maintained insofar is it strengthens and empowers not only the collective, but the individual as well.
8) Autonomy and Self-Management
In our collective history, we have no shortage of examples of the downfall of groups based too heavily on a charismatic leader or a brilliant idea. These sources of revolutionary strength are important, but leaning on them too heavily reduces our own creativity and openness. Furthermore, it makes us far less sustainable in the long run, as all leaders must eventually die and all ideas must change and progress. In order for a collective to be truly revolutionary, it must be creating itself and constantly in motion, always adjusting and critically adapting. It must, then, have autonomy from the systems or movements in which it takes part, and it must assert this need as a collective.
In addition to this, the members of the collective must be able to practice self-management in the collective structure itself. While revolutionary communalism asserts a collective expression of life, it must cultivate just as intentionally the individual expressions of life. The collective must be an organ whereby the individual – rather than bowing to the collective – is empowered to live out her/his fullest potentials as a person.
On a more practical note, individuals have a great number of personal drives and desires, and would probably have even more of them if they were allowed to develop unconstrained by oppression. If these drives are not taken seriously, accommodated, and cultivated, they will end up conflicting with the collective drives. A clash between the individual and the collective will either yield the disintegration of the collective or the repression of the individual, neither of which is even remotely desirable.
If we seek to create social relations where individuals and communities are connected to each other by will and desire and not by coercion or necessity, we should practice this in our revolutionary communalism. As we develop collective expressions of life, we should maintain an important balance between this and the individuals’ needs and desires. We should always remember that part of the reason we are revolutionaries is that the way the world works today does not allow us – each of us – to live out our full potential. The collective should be an enabler for our individual growth, not an inhibitor of it.
9) Intentionality and Flexibility
The whole communal project is under the rubric of intentional living, and part of a struggle to live more aware, more sensuous lives. To do it blindly would reduce it to yet another lifeless organ for outward struggle, as is not so difficult to find among the dogmatic, cranky, unimaginative, now-old once-New Left political parties or movements. Revolution is a dynamic process, full of life and creativity. When our struggle becomes stale and stagnant, it no longer reflects revolution on the inside.
Intentionality and flexibility remind us to be humble. We learn from trial and error, often being forced to change or adapt our ideas to fit our experience. If we are too tied to a structure, a method, an idea, or even a set of nine principles for revolutionary communalism, we stop allowing ourselves to learn. If our ideas don’t progress along with the rest of the world, they should be examined and renegotiated.
Not only does the world change, but, to put it simply, people change. We should be realistic about this, and create structures that are flexible and breathable enough to allow – even foster – individual change, while maintaining collectivity.
On one hand, there is great merit in creating real structures for communalism. First of all, we need institutions that reflect our values so we are not forced to make intentional decisions from the moment we begin tying our shoes in the morning till we finally fall asleep at night. We need these structures to provide for us the material basis of the lives we want to lead. Furthermore, not everyone wants to have as frequent a reflection process, and clearly thought-out structures provide some healthy stability for our communal models. This stability becomes even more relevant as we grow older in our movements. We can look to the Israeli Kibbutzim that are still socialist as a partial model for this type of stability, which truly does have a place in a revolutionary movement.
However, at the same time, the Kibbutz is not fresh, dynamic, or creative; it is heavy, too cumbersome to move, too monumental to change according to its constituency’s development. Revolutionary communal initiatives will suffer the same fate if we do not remain intentional and flexible. As much as we can and should try to formulate a model and a structure for revolutionary communalism, we must be aware that as people grow – together and on their own – the needs and inclinations both of the collective as a whole and the individuals in it – will change. If the structure becomes too heavy, it will ultimately collapse when faced with peoples’ urges to be progressive and move forward in their lives. This is an urge that the collective must empower, not constrain.
The Strategic Importance of Revolutionary Communalism
Whether we relate to this fact or not, the lives we lead are inherently interwoven. To ignore this and navigate the world on autopilot – to imagine that we are completely autonomous agents – is a fiction, and a destructive one. To avoid thinking intentionally about the relationships we have with one another means we cannot be active in the creation of those relationships. On the other hand, thinking about our interconnections critically allows us to create them intentionally, in a way that positively reflects our values.
It is obvious that we are stronger in our struggle for social change when we are together. If we are serious about the task ahead of us, we should see ourselves as part of a movement of people. To build this movement with a degree of closeness only makes us better at our work, and more likely to succeed. A collective relationship between people working together to change the world facilitates solidarity in action, creates a larger pool of ideas, helps us share resources, and makes the ideological personal so that we can stay true to real human values as opposed to abstract or mechanized modes of revolution.
In addition, as proponents of a vision of society that is more connected, communal, and intentional, we do a lot of the work of convincing people of the merits of our vision by living it out in front of them. Through our revolutionary communalism, we can attract people to the struggle towards an entire society guided by those same values. Furthermore, by living the way we think we ought to live (the way we are fighting for everyone to be able to live should they choose to), we indicate that we are genuine about our vision, that we truly believe it can and should be.
Some version of communalism has been a component of just about every worthwhile vision for a new society. If we think communalism will afford people better lives in the future, the same should be true for us. If we live happier lives, we have a greater chance of attracting others to our struggle, and lasting longer in the great work ahead of us. We should do away with the fantasies about martyrdom that we draw from both mainstream culture and the mythology of radicalism; revolution is not standing on the top of a mountain (or building) waving a flag; it is not a starving, under-slept, chain-smoking intellectual scribbling away for the cause. We should let the martyr die (more figuratively this time…) and revive the revolutionary who struggles in a way that is fulfilling and empowering, who lives out her/his vision in daily life as much as possible, because it makes her/him happy. A happy, life-long revolutionary is worth a dozen suffering martyrs with short fuses.
Finally, if we plan to drastically change the social relations of our society, and totally redefine the way we live together, we had better know what we are talking about. We need our practice at revolutionary communalism just like an athlete needs to practice for a big match, and our match is certainly one of the biggest ones imaginable. We cannot expect anyone to trust our essays and speeches if we have no practical experience in the lives we are proposing to lead together.
Beyond this rather utilitarian view of revolutionary communalism, there is an equally important element of utopianism that every social movement needs. If we truly believe that a future society must be made up of egalitarian, self-managed communities, we must live in such communities now to the best of our abilities. If we believe this way of life to be closer to our ideal, we should not only think it strategically valuable to live this way, we should want to.
Part of being a revolutionary is living the way one thinks the world ought to look, for strategic reasons, but also for personal reasons. If we claim we want a society where people have communal relationships, we should struggle to obtain that – not only for our current or yet-to-be-born children, or for the ever-invoked "masses." We should struggle for ourselves, as well, because we deserve happiness as much as any other generation we can hope and struggle for. Although we have a long way to go before we radically alter society so that people can live in a world without capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and authoritarianism, we can certainly live lives that reflect egalitarianism today, and revolutionary communalism is a structure for that.
Just as social change takes place in confrontations, in movement-building, in organizing, and in educating, it also takes place in our day-to-day relations, in our living-rooms and our workplaces. Our thoughts become our words, and our words shift society’s discussion one phrase at a time. Our phrases materialize in our actions, and our actions should reflect the world we want to live in, because it will make us stronger, better, happier, and more honest revolutionaries.
To my Partners
This essay is only one point on the journey of articulating a method for connecting the fight for a good life, and living it. It is a work in progress, like any theoretical writing should be. The ideas above are only suggestions and pieces of advice. We will have to write the rest together.
To my communalist partners: you are living beautiful lives. The actions you take allow you transform yourselves and one another. They reflect to people around you that another way of being human is possible. Your life is changing people, who are changing other people. But the world is much larger than that, and we are much more powerful together. You have great insights to offer movements for social change, and without that step, you are only living half of the world you wish to see, because the other half includes struggling actively on everyone’s behalf.
To my revolutionary partners: Your drive towards changing the world around you has been a motor for progress throughout human history. You are bringing – step by step – a new world into existence. But your lives are important too, and you cannot hope for people to join you if they do not see in your day-to-day lives the attempt to live the way you think the world should look, and the fulfillment of a revolutionary life that is sustainable and enriching. The revolution begins in our living rooms, and that is our staging ground for the battles we face outside our windows.
Revolutionary communalism is where vision and strategy meet. It is vital for those of us intending to live a life guided by a holistic connection between struggle for a good life and the living of that life itself. It is a vital element of any movement that hopes to be revolutionary, and any group of people that seeks to live a meaningful communal life. It is essential both for people seeking to change the world, and those trying to live in it justly. While revolutionary communalism sharpens us in our struggle for an egalitarian society, it is also a vessel in which we can live these relations as we forge ahead. While we crash head first into a world turned inside out by oppressions of all sorts, we should imagine a different world, and we should create it for ourselves and for those around us as much as we can. We should struggle fiercely to change this world, and we should be determined to live our lives in that struggle as beautifully and as gracefully as possible.